How to fail at almost everything and still win big

This year, instead of setting goals, I’m going to try creating systems. I’ve been reading a great new book by Scott Adams that dives into the psychology of why New Year’s resolutions and personal development goals don’t work. The book is called ‘How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life‘ and it’s so good that instead of reviewing it, I’ve reprinted an excerpt so that you can hear directly from Scott. I’ve pieced together this except myself using a few of my favourite chapters. The excerpt is just a sample of the key ideas and you really should buy the book.

Scott Adams Dilbert
Scott Adams is the creator of Dilbert and an insightful observer of human psychology.

Scott Adams is the creator of Dilbert, one of the most popular and widely distributed comic strips of the past quarter century. He has been a full-time cartoonist since 1995, after sixteen years as a technology worker for companies like Crocker National Bank and Pacific Bell. His many bestsellers include The Dilbert Principle and Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook. Enter Scott Adams

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Strategic Listening

Listening is the heart of good communication and strategic conversations. Asking good questions is an important part of listening but first you need to get the distractions out of the way.

Asking tough questions.
In the TV show SUITS, the main characters are masters of asking tough questions.

Listening to someone is a real gift because it allows them to clarify their thinking and you can then reflect back their thinking with even more clarity.

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Strategic Questions

Having a strategic conversation is all about listening and asking the right questions. Great brand strategists build a toolkit of questions that they can ask in difficult questions.

Strategic Questions
In the TV show SUITS, one of the senior lawyers tells a new lawyer to “prod until it hurts”.

Management consulting, innovation, design and branding can all benefit from asking better questions.

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Strategic Conversations

Large meetings seem productive, but if you really want to get things done, you need to have a one-on-one conversation.

In our strategy consulting we are finding that workshops and brainstorming sessions can only get you so far. I’ve been noticing that to get to the heart of something, you need to have a one-on-one conversation with the key players. A frank and fearless conversation with the CEO can be the best way to quickly understand what’s really going on with a project.

Workshops versus Conversation
Sometimes the best way to have a strategic conversation is to get out of the office.

I’m calling these fireside chats “strategic conversations” and we’re using them more and more as a formal part of our digital brand consultancy. It seems like a small thing, but early on in a project it can make a real difference to sit down and have a truly honest conversation. Talking one-on-one can make all the difference.

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Tim Ferriss on Minimum Viable Knowledge

Minimum Viable Knowledge is the amount of information that you need to know about a subject to operate effectively in that domain. Tim Ferriss is the master of how to achieve the minimum effective knowledge on any topic quickly, easily and elegantly.

Tim Ferriss Minimum Viable Knowledge
Tim Ferriss shared lots of case studies and examples about how to learn a new skill faster and easier.

Learning how to learn is one of the main things that makes a good business person into a great thinker. All the things that can hold back a natural strategist, become a strength once you can articulate and accelerate the way that you absorb and process information. Being a polymath is often considered a weakness until you become a credible specialist in being a generalist. Tim has created a robust system for something that a good Renaissance Man has always known: how to quickly learn just enough about something to be dangerous.

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Creativity lessons from Noma Restaurant

Noma is a world-famous restaurant in Copenhagen that is leading charge in creativity and innovation. The experience of eating at Noma really blew my mind. Every detail has been considered. The meal leads you on a journey throughout the Scandanavian wilderness. The idea is to use ‘found’ food that had been foraged from nature. There is a child-like wonder to the Noma restaurant that draws you into the story. The passion of the chefs is infectious and they really are on a mission to change the way that we look at creativity and food. Noma was awarded the best restaurant in the world for a couple of years running and there is a lot that we can learn from them about creativity, innovation and company culture.

Creativity in Business
The Noma laboratory and test kitchens create an impressive space for innovation.

We made a special trip to Copenhagen because a friend had managed to refresh the booking page on their website repeatedly until she got a table. A little like buying tickets to an almost sold-out concert. Just before leaving for Copenhagen, a client in the restaurant trade reminded me that that Autumn in Denmark might be a cold time to be foraging and that perhaps the meal would be a bit light. Luckily, the team at Noma are masters at improvising and the Autumn seasonal meal was a masterpiece.

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Being zen at work

Reading the Steve Jobs Biography has made me realise how important his philosophical views were to his business life. I’ve made a point of keeping my own beliefs to myself, in my work, and on this blog. But Steve’s example is forcing me to confront the fact that the general attitude you bring to life really does inform the attitude that you bring to business.

Steve Jobs Landmark Forum Zen
Your approach to life influences your approach to business more than most people realise.

Recently, several bloggers that I respect such as Olivier Blanchard and Seth Godin have been sharing more about how their personal beliefs inform their work. In this sprit, I’d like to share my own brief explorations with Zen and some practical things that I’ve learnt. Continue reading Being zen at work

The future of customer relationships

We are in the middle of one the biggest economic shifts since the Industrial Revolution. The Information Age is rapidly being replaced by the Relationship Age a new era grounded in technology but focused on people. And it’s happening too fast for anyone to see.

The relationship age
If tills are replaced with self-scanning then staff can spend time helping customers and building relationships.

I call this new era the Relationship Age because we will see businesses that nurture their relationships thrive and those that don’t die off. What look like changes in technology today are actually changes in human behaviour.

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Curated Identity

In brand strategy we are always looking for real human insights to drive the creation of a real point of difference. The most powerful place to find a point of difference is in the audience’s own behaviour and sense of identity.

Consumer Behaviour
What are the secret motivations for buying premium products?

When was the last time that you spent more on something than you should have? The chances are it indirectly had something to do with your self image. Or the self image that you want to create.

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Using social media for new product development

Customer research using online tools
Social media is one of the most powerful ways to understand your consumers.

The traditional ways for a brand to communicate range between television, print campaigns, advertising and PR. All of these traditional communication efforts use design, language and flow through the normal communication channels.

Social media demands a totally different approach.

In essence, the traditional approaches to communication were one-way. A brand or business created content, infused it with key messages and expressed it through channels out to the customers. The new media channels are much more about two-way conversation.

Listening before talking

The way to encourage a brand to take the step from a one-way communication thinking into two-way communication is to really get the business and the brand to start listening. In fact, my preference would be for a brand to really become obsessed with listening so that it infused throughout the culture of the whole business before embarking on any new media.

I really want to see the senior management team, marketing team, communications, and PR all involved in listening to customers. Particularly, the new product development team, design and engineering all need to be really listening to users in:

  • informal ways through focus groups and end user observations
  • formal ways such as user surveys, feedback forms, and warranty claim analysis.

I’ve found that once you get a business listening to their customers (and to their end users) then starting to have a two-way conversation is much easier than asking a brand to go straight from one-way communication into two-way communication.

What can you learn from Apple, if you’re not Apple

Apple is often used as a case study for brand consistency, design identity and technological innovation and even for end-user centred innovation. The dirty secret of Apple’s brand is that they really don’t listen that well. Maybe they don’t have to (certainly no one can doubt their success), but as a model for other companies to learn from I would actually be looking much more at a company like Harley Davidson in terms of their engagement with their customers.

Apple has website feedback forms, they have user forums and they have the ability to provide feedback on their software built into the software itself. All of these are useful but they don’t get used, at least as far as we can tell, to drive new product development in the same way as a company like Harley Davidson which creates new products genuinely based on customer feedback and customer ideas does.
Apple regularly takes an intuitive leap beyond customer feedback, which is great if you have Apple’s design team. But if you don’t, then I’d suggest you start by listening to your customers more closely.

If you are going to be listening to your users, and observing their behavior to derive insights then you will need a new set of tools that go beyond normal market research. It’s likely that you’re going to need to adjust the culture of the whole organisation to be more customer centered. This may take some time but is almost always worth it.

Tools to listen

This really highlights the overlap between social media and new product development based on end-user centred design. A practical focus for your company could be to run through 3 steps when you start getting into social media:
  1. The first step is to diagnose exactly where you are up to across the organisation in terms of your online presence.
  2. The second step is to identify the key goals that you want to achieve using social media. Think in terms of consumer engagement, increased sales and/or increased customer retention.
  3. And the third thing to do is to set priorities in terms of online presences and particular websites or web tools that are going to use.

Getting these 3 things sorted is going to help start off your brand down the track of building a conversation rather than a cacophony where only one side is talking.

Note: This post was dictated into my iPhone while having a coffee at one of the hidden cafes in Melbourne’s cobbled side-streets. It was transcribed in the UK by a virtual assistant from elance and the photo was taken by a local Melbourne DJ.